Liah Greenfeld, Ph.D., writes that medical advances in prolonging life may have unintended consequences. She offers as evidence the fate of her parents:
My mother, who will be 85 next month and whose mind is still sharper than a surgical scalpel, repeats now and then: one must die in time. She was a doctor, she watched many deaths. She believes that the ability of medical science in developed countries to prolong life into the 80s and beyond is nothing to celebrate and, in fact, actively contributes to unnecessary suffering. My mother is tired of life – and since my father’s death eleven years ago, in 2002, has often wished she were dead. They were married for 53 years, with his death meaningful life ended for her – there was nothing to live for anymore. His death – sudden, on the operation table, at 75 — was a terrible loss for all of us. For two years I, his eldest daughter, 48 when this happened, was overwhelmed by grief. Yet, before that, I had been consciously happy, that is, I realized that my life was a truly happy one, full to the brim of love and passionate interest in the surrounding world, which make life worth living. My father knew that he was going to die: we have discovered this in his diary. He was a doctor too, and a very good doctor, in contrast to the young and eager to cut surgeons who operated on him. He knew that, given the regimen of medications he was on, if operated, he would die of the loss of blood; his doctors, who suggested an exploratory surgery, missed this essential detail. Signing the consent form, my father was, therefore, consciously signing his death warrant. He was a man interested in so many things, always excited about something, always full of projects. In fact, at the time of his death he was learning a new language. And he was afraid of dying, as he wrote in the last entry of his diary, adding, though, but can life after 75 be considered life? I understand now that he died, as my mother says, “in time.”
After his death, my mother suddenly became very old. Her health drastically deteriorated. She started dying and has been dying for eleven years.
She ends by asking: “When is the time? Shouldn’t we at least think of this before further advancing our ability to prolong physical existence, without at the same time being able to fill the additional years with meaning?”